MORE than a hundred innocent persons were arrested after burning of S-6 bogy of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002, an incident which came in turn after the demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. The man responsible for the Godhra tragedy was Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujrat, who exploited burning of the S-6 to retain his power which otherwise he was sure to lose.
And the man mostly responsible for the Masjid incident was Mr L.K.Advani, leader of the opposition, who, to fulfil his ambition for power, raised the slogan ‘mandir wahin banayenge’ and played with the religious sentiments of common Hindus and our secular state looked the other way.
As a result of the conspiracies by these two men, thousands died, tens of thousands were uprooted from their hearths and homes and many more lost everything they had and yet both remain not only unpunished but are enjoying power (Advani, though could not become prime minister which was his target but became home minister and deputy prime minister under Atal Bihari Vajpayee and is now a prominent opposition leader which also is a sort of power).
Mr Advani promptly issued a statement that he has been vindicated the moment lower court pronounced some people guilty arrested by his or his party’s government even before higher court’s judgments released them or declared them not guilty. The moment Mr Jeelani was held guilty by the lower court in parliament attack case, he did not hesitate to issue this statement even though he was home minister at the centre. No one holding such responsible position should rush to issue such statements on the lower court’s verdicts. The Supreme Court found Prof Jeelani ‘not guilty’ and released him.
Again in the ‘Godhra conspiracy case’ judgment, Advani’s attitude was the same. He was delighted that 31 people were pronounced ‘guilty’ by the lower court although 63 were released and especially Husain Umerjee who was arrested as the ‘main conspirator’ was found not guilty by the Court. The whole conspiracy theory crumbles to the ground if the chief conspirator himself is found innocent. Who then plotted the conspiracy? But that was none of Advani’s concern. At least 31 have been found guilty. And it is out of question that he will wait for higher courts to critically examine the judgment of the lower court.
Mr Advani acts in this way not because he is hasty by nature. He does it with a purpose. He knows his guilt in raising emotionally charged issue of Ramjanambhoomi temple and getting it demolished in his august presence on December 6, 1992 and wants to hide his guilt by pronouncing the victims as guilty. Unfortunately this is the whole tragedy. Besides thousands who died because of the controversy raised by Mr Advani, thousands were uprooted and became refugees in their own country, hundreds suffered due to imprisonment for years.
In the Godhra case alone, more than 100 persons were arrested on the charge of conspiracy some of whom had died and 63, who spent nine years in jail, were released by the court. Who will compensate them for precious loss of these years in prison? The Police in Modi government arbitrarily picked up people and put them under POTA. I cannot forget the cries of a woman in public hearing in Hyderabad whose three sons were arrested in the so-called Godhra conspiracy case and who were later released by the court. She was crying why POTA has taken away my sons, “please tell POTA my sons are innocent.” Obviously she did not know what the POTA was and thought it is the name of some person. Her husband could not bear the tragedy and passed away after four years of his son’s arrest. Everybody in the audience was crying. Who can compensate her and her three sons for this loss?
Another matter of grave concern is that while innocent people have suffered so much, those who are really guilty are wielding power. And what is worse is that Mr L.K.Advani is not even being tried for demolition of Babri Masjid. He has been charged only for making a provocative speech near Babri Masjid. That case was also withdrawn and now CBI has again applied for reviving the case. The CBI was much pliant to the NDA government. It was under home ministership of Mr Advani that such cases against him were withdrawn by the CBI.
In the first place Mr Advani should not have been made home minister, much less appointed deputy prime minister, when he was being tried in the court of law by CBI which works under the home ministry. But anything can happen in democratic India. And still the BJP has temerity of accusing the Congress of misusing CBI. Mr. Narendra Modi should be asked, in his case, what is good governance? To kill 2000 innocent people and rape scores of women, including pregnant women, and to win power by inciting religious sentiments and to polarise people on religious grounds? For Tatas and Ambanis and other big industrialists it may amount to good governance but for common people it amounts to hell.
The Gujarat carnage, whatever Mr Modi now does, cannot be forgotten and will go down in history as an event of greatest shame for secular India. Mr Advani, who fights election from Gujarat, keeps on praising Modi on every possible occasion but it only adds to the gravity and criminality of the matter.
Even SIT (Special Investigation Team) appointed by the Supreme Court could not give clean chit to Mr. Modi but wriggled out by saying there is not enough evidence to try him. The SIT report published in Tehelka is damaging enough. If the SIT had proceeded further on that basis it could have surely found evidence to try Mr Modi. Without Modi’s complicity riots could not have lasted even for 24 hours, let alone three months.
The cases of Bihar under Laloo Prasad and West Bengal under the Left government clearly show, if any proof is needed, that no communal riot can last more than 24 hours without the state complicity. Can then Narendra Modi be exonerated of his complicity in riots? In no way. And SIT report and other investigative reports clearly indict him beyond any doubt. If this dark spot on the fair name of secularism is to be washed away the really guilty must be held accountable in any case.
Technicalities should not become an excuse to exonerate these elements who have ruined the lives of thousands. If these people can enjoy power by accusing innocent people of ‘conspiracy’ without any solid ground, can really guilty be not tried on very sound ground. Let us hope the Supreme Court will issue further directives to SIT or any other agencies to collect proper evidence against the guilty men of Gujarat. Most of the police high officers who did what the government of Gujarat wanted them to do should also not be allowed to escape and must be held responsible.
These high officials cannot get away by saying they carried out orders of the government. Their first duty is towards the constitution of India and no unconstitutional orders can be accepted. My experience in last 45 years of my work for communal harmony shows that communal violence cannot stop in India unless the guilty people are given exemplary punishment. It is no use showing stick to small fish while big fish enjoys all the benefits of inciting communal violence.
The writer is an Indian scholar and chairman of Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai.